One of the profoundly sad things about living under the weight of atheism is that when an atheist ponders the amazing life that is being lived, the beauty that surrounds us on every side, the love we encounter in this life, the joys of learning, the physical bounty that is thrust upon us, the atheist’s dilemma is that s/he has no One to thank. Oh sure atheists can and do say, “I’m thankful that I’m such a clever person,” or “I’m grateful that there have been so many positive coincidents this year.” But those thoughts are simply directed into the atmosphere.
Real thankfulness and real gratefulness means that a person has acknowledged RECEIVING something from an outside source; usually on an undeserved basis.
“I have no one to THANK” is a refrain with which all atheists must struggle. But it doesn’t stop there.
In a forlorn and pathetic tone, “I have no one to forgive me,” was a comment made a while ago by an atheist in an unguarded moment.
I don’t know how I’d live if that were true for me. I have hurt so very many people. I’ve lied and stolen and deceived and betrayed and disappointed. I’ve taken and taken and taken. I lived for the first three decades of my life totally and completely in the service of self. Compared to who God has made me today, I find my former self disgusting. There is no way that I can undo the damage that I’ve caused over the years and if I had to carry the guilt of that with me for the rest of my life well, I just don’t know how I could do that.
Humans from around the world share common struggles on many levels. To name only three:
- The fear of living a meaningless life, is one struggle.
- The ending of one’s existence at the point of death is another fear.
- A huge fear, one that is the point of this post, is the fear of an inability to live with real guilt.
Of course most of us, at one time or another, have been exposed to false guilt. Usually it was inflicted upon us by well-meaning folks. Other times we were hit with false guilt by absolutely horrid people. Both groups have used guilt as a parenting tool to manipulate and control their children. Others have used guilt to extract favours from vulnerable people. That kind of guilt is a fairly effective tool, at least in the short term and it’s used by people from all walks of life; by the rich and the poor, city or country, by the religious as well as those of no religious faith. That’s not the guilt that I want to talk about.
. Real guilt is what we experience when we cheat someone who trusted us.
. Real guilt is what happens when we betray another’s genuine love.
. Real guilt is what we feel when we’ve harmed the defenceless.
. When we abuse ourselves and others it is common and GOOD that emotional discomfort is a fact of life.
The physical and emotional consequences of carrying around real guilt was a common theme for those I saw as a counsellor. Real guilt is something that cannot be “stuffed” if you expect to function as an emotionally healthy individual.
Now, Jesus teaches His followers how to meet the above fears and how to move beyond them. Because Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and because He proved His claims about Himself by rising from the dead in such a manner as to defeat all attempts to explain away His resurrection, for the obedient Christian these “fears” become nothing more than a temporary nuisance. We can trust His directives and when we obey Him, Jesus leads us through life as “more than conquerors.” We can live with our eyes wide open, in honesty and integrity and not lose one iota of perceived worth or value.
It’s a much different story for the atheist. Because atheists claim that they “Don’t need God in order to be a good person,” atheists have to pretend they’re actually good people just as they are. In fact, atheists are so dependent on this philosophy that most of them find it quite offensive when they hear Christians admitting to the reality of their own flaws and weaknesses. Atheists can’t imagine how anyone can psychologically survive while holding such a dim view of humanity in general and of their selves in particular. Describing his decision to take an honest and fearless inventory of his inner self, a former atheist once said, “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was Legion.”
All Christians can relate. One of the reasons that we can confront the reality of our inner self is that we are forgiven. We are accepted as we are. We are loved as we are. In fact, we are loved so much that upon the confession of who we really are, Jesus immediately begins the process of changing our corrupt character and that is something for which we are so very very grateful. In Jesus, and through His forgiveness, we are freed from the guilt of past actions. Jesus can do this because it is against Him and Him only that we have sinned.
It is our Creator’s laws that we have broken.
It is our Creator’s forgiveness that we need.
While the consequences of our wrong actions may follow us for the rest of our lives, Jesus has dealt with our guilt, forgiven our sins and He has set us free from the power and control of sin.
Guilt of course is an uncomfortable feeling, and a common complaint from atheists is that the teachings of “Christianity” is what made / makes them feel guilty. So what’s their response? Oddly enough, these people who conceive of themselves as brave and courageous souls actually run from reality. They pretend that:
a) there is no one to Judge them and
b) there is nothing to judge.
In an atheist’s world there is no objective Right or Wrong, only opinions, beliefs, likes, and dislikes. Living by this philosophy creates a world where one’s concept of Good and Bad is based totally upon whether the thing being judged coincides with one’s opinions, beliefs, likes and dislikes
- If it makes me feel good in the moment, then it’s good.
- If it makes me feel bad in the moment, then it’s bad.
- Guilt makes me feel bad, therefore a sense of guilt is bad.
At this point the atheist adjusts h/her opinion of said topic to mesh with the current pattern of conduct.
Why are Christians able to handle the situation differently? We know from our “pre Christian” lives that trying to adapt to “what works in the moment” is an extremely ineffective and self-defeating way to deal with guilt. Saying that what’s clearly wrong is actually right simply to avoid feelings of guilt is beyond the pale stupidity.
. If there is an objective standard of right and wrong, and everyone knows at some level that there is indeed such a standard, and
. If one is not meeting that standard, and
. If one is thereby experiencing emotional discomfort,
The solution is not to attempt to change the standard or one’s opinion and one’s culpability in light of the standard.
THE SOLUTION IS to change one’s character and / or behaviours so they conform to the standard.
There is no other way to maintain emotional health while at the same time dealing effectively with guilt.
Guilt, real guilt, is like physical pain. It’s essential to our well-being. Remove the ability to feel physical pain and the loss of limbs and digits is inevitable. Block out the emotional pain of real guilt and we are lost in an ocean of options with no way of knowing which course to set in order to find a safe harbour for our souls. Without listening to our conscience, and by resetting our inner compass to suit our circumstances, relational crashes and hurting those we love the most are outcomes that are absolutely guaranteed.
As part of God’s plan to defeat evil, Jesus died in our place in order to remove the guilt from our lives and to provide for us a means of forgiveness. The atheist who said, “I have no one to forgive me,” is just flat out wrong.
. There IS someone to guide you safely through life.
. There IS someone to forgive you.
. There IS a way to be set truly free from real guilt.
The offer of forgiveness will remain open until your dying breath. However, hardening one’s heart so as to not be affected by one’s behaviours can make it so you are no longer aware of the offer. And second, none of us knows when our dying breath will come.
If hearing that makes you feel uncomfortable or even angry, be grateful. That awareness comes courtesy of the One who provided you with feelings as a means of getting you to pay attention. The reality of strokes, heart attacks, accidents, sudden storms, falling or random violence means that we should heed the warning that says, “Now is the time that God is calling out to you. Now is the time to ask for forgiveness. Now is the opportunity to be freed from guilt. Now is the time to take hold of the salvation that is freely offered. Creator God who loves you longs to bring you safely home.
Good luck on your journey.